Here we are on another gray weekend morning. It was supposed to rain off and on all day yesterday–it didn’t–but it turned out to be a pretty good day. I wrote about eight thousand words or so, give and take, and made groceries in the afternoon. I did take care of some chores around the Lost Apartment, too, and I spent some time yesterday morning with Other Horrors, which I should finish this morning as I only have three stories left. There have been a couple that puzzled me, but overall, I’ve enjoyed the collection for the most part. I’d be pressed to pick a favorite story, though. Reading it has again reminded me that I am not, no matter how much I wish I was, a horror writer. I just don’t have the imagination, I don’t think, to be a horror writer. I can write Gothic suspense–suspense stories with a touch of the supernatural in them, like Lake Thirteen and Bury Me in Shadows–but I just don’t have the kind of mind that goes to horror when I think about writing.
We also finished off That 90’s Show last night and started watching Mayfair Witches, an adaptation of Anne Rice’s Mayfair trilogy, beginning with my favorite of her novels, The Witching Hour. I am predisposed to like this, since I loved the book so much (the rest of the trilogy not so much), and of course I drove past the house they turned into the Mayfair house for filming on Prytania Street all the time. (They did not use the actual house at First and Chestnut; one thing I did have a problem with was the way they showed Dierdre’s porch, which was different on the actual house than how depicted on the show) There are two more episodes for us to get through tonight, which is cool. I slept extremely well last night again–it’s remarkable how well I’ve been sleeping since getting back from New York–and my psoriasis seems to be under control again for the first time in years. There are a few things I need from the grocery store, but I think I can safely put that off until tomorrow and can stop on the way home from work. This morning I did get up earlier than I wanted to–I am sleeping so well I could stay in bed all day without an issue, I think–but I eel good. My legs have finally stopped feeling sore and tired, thank God, and I think I can safely say that I have completely reacclimated to my day to day life again.
I’m still listening to the Hadestown score, but I also started listening to the Christine McVie-Lindsay Buckingham album the two recorded a few years ago, and it’s quite good. The harmonies! Although I can’t help but think two things while listening: first, I wish Lindsay Buckingham had produced one of her solo albums and second, the one thing missing is Stevie Nicks and this would have made an amazing Fleetwood Mac album, which I think was what it was originally intended to be but Stevie wasn’t available or something or another. It’s also sad to know there will never be another Fleetwood Mac album since Christine’s untimely passing last year (not with my favorite line-up, at any rate). I need to move her solo album from the 1980’s back into my rotation–it’s a great and always underrated record. It’s hard to imagine the band moving on without either Christine or Lindsay (whom they fired), and Stevie already has a band she tours with as a solo act…sigh. Fleetwood Mac was the soundtrack of my teens and twenties and it’s just very weird that it’s finally over after all these years for me. When I write about the 1970’s–which I probably will do either later this year or sometime next–it will indelibly have Fleetwood Mac music all over the score of my work.
When I finish this book, I have to spend February revising Mississippi River Mischief and should spend some time doing a massive copy edit of Jackson Square Jazz so I finally have all of the Scotty series for sale as ebooks at long last. Once I get that done, March will be spent revising the one I am writing now, and then finally come April I can get back to work on Chlorine at long last. I’d like to get a draft of it finished in April so I can write another first draft of something else in May (I already know what it is going to be) and then will probably spend the rest of the year writing short stories and novellas and revising everything to see what can happen with them. Next year I want to write yet another Scotty book and that’s when I am going to try to write my 1970’s Chicago suburb boys-are-disappearing novel, too. None of this is carved into stone tablets, either–things always come up along the way, new ideas or hey Greg want to write a book we’ll pay you xxx for it and I never ever say no to things like that. I’d also like to come up with a new short story collection at some time, or perhaps the three-in-one book novella collection; it’s hard to say. And I kind of want to try to write a romance. There’s always so much I want to write, isn’t there?
Heavy heaving sigh. I don’t think I’ll ever match the days when I used to write four or five novels per year, but I do think I am going to be able to get a lot more writing done now in the next few years. Next weekend I am doing a signing at the ALA event here in New Orleans at the Convention Center, and of course the next weekend I am off to Alabama, and then it’s Carnival. Utter madness!
And now I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and I will probably check in with you again later.
Christine McVie died yesterday, or it was announced yesterday. It came as a bit of a shock to me, particularly realizing that she was nearly eighty. Eighty. I never really think too much about how old celebrities are (unless someone is making a big deal about it) and like people I know, I think my brain freezes everyone in amber at the age they were when I first found out about them/met them.
I discovered Fleetwood Mac when I was in high school. One of my friends was really into them, to the point where it was almost tiresome, so I was initially resistant to their allure. The fact that the band had three different lead singer/songwriters who all had their own distinctive style didn’t help–I had heard “Dreams” and “Go Your Own Way” and “You Make Loving Fun” all on the radio but had no idea it was all the same band because they sounded like three different ones. One day when I was at my friend’s house, he put the Rumours album on the stereo while we were studying…and I not only liked it, I loved it. I was stunned to learn it was all the same band! The next time I went to a record store (or a department store that had a records section) I bought the first of three copies of the album I owned on vinyl (I wore the first two out, and the third was well on its way to unplayability but we’d moved on to CD’s by then; Rumours was one of the first three CD’s I bought once I had a CD player; that CD is in the glovebox of my car right now because I do have a CD player in the car I bought), and then went back and bought the first Fleetwood Mac album released after Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham joined the band (I also hadn’t know they had recorded “Rhiannon” and “Say You Love Me,” either). From thereon out, I bought every new Fleetwood Mac album on the day it was released, and I’ve enjoyed them all. Rumours is the gold standard, but one of the things I’ve always loved about the Mac was that every album was different, had a different sound and structure, than any of the preceding ones. And of course, while I definitely could tell who wrote and sang which song by simply listening, I never tired of them. Some of the albums aren’t as good as others–we all have preferences–but Rumours has remained my favorite album for almost fifty years.
Fifty years. Fuck.
Stevie Nicks, of course, is the band member I became the biggest fan of–of the three, Lindsey has always been my least favorite, despite the fact my favorite song of theirs is his, “Go Your Own Way,” which is absolute genius–but I always loved Christine’s voice and her songs. Some of the ballads (“Oh Daddy” and “Songbird”) aren’t my favorites–I really have to be in the mood to listen to either–but she is responsible for some great Fleetwood Mac music–“Say You Love Me,” “Little Lies,” “Hold Me,” “Mystified,” “Everywhere,” “Don’t Stop,” among many others–and her voice! So smooth, so beautiful, so calming and capable. She released a solo album in the mid-1980’s called simply Christine McVie which is another one of my favorite albums of all time, too–there’s not a bad track on it, and I have it on my Spotify–listen to it and thank me later–and I actually should listen to it more myself.
I knew eventually the day would come when the door would close on the possibility of any new Fleetwood Mac music from my favorite line-up of the band, but I rather hate that the day has finally come.
But I choose to be grateful to Christine McVie for the legacy of great music she left for us rather than sad that she’s gone. She was a gift we didn’t deserve.
Ah, Sara. The first actual book I wrote for a young adult audience, and what a long and tortured history this story actually had.
I started writing stories when I was really young, my own versions of the kids’ series books I was addicted to and were blatant rip-offs, frankly, but it was good practice, I started writing original fiction when I was in high school; basically, I started writing about a group of high school students at a small rural high school (kind of like the one I was going to), and always felt that someday I would turn them all into a book about those kids. A couple of years after high school I abandoned the first actual novel I tried to write (I don’t even know if I still have it anywhere but I don’t think so; it most likely got lost in one of the many moves over the decades), and decided to write a novel about high school students in Kansas. Writing in cursive longhand, I expanded the story beyond the teenagers–who were still the primary core of the story–but also wrote about their parents and siblings as well. It was very soapy–this was the time when my daytime soap addiction was at its highest–but ultimately, the real story was the murder. I wrote whenever I could, often changing character names and ending subplots and starting new ones willy-nilly as my mind bounced around, always coming up with new ideas for it. I started in 1980, and I finally wrote the end on it in 1984; four years. I had thousands of wide-ruled paper filled with my loopy, pretty handwriting; now the trick was to somehow type it all up and edit it, cut out all the excess and tighten it, decide on final names, and so forth.
Needless to say, I never did that. I still have it all somewhere, in a box–it did survive all those moves–but over the years I pilfered plots and character names and stories from it. I have a tendency to come up with character names for ideas for stories and books that never get used; I then turn around and use those names again in something else I am writing (I talked about Chris Moore and Eric Matthews before; I came up with those names for an idea I had for a book set in a fraternity, and have used them in Todd Gregory “fratboy” books and they’ve turned up elsewhere, too).
Sara is one of those books born from that original manuscript, and no, despite the opening sentence of this entry, I didn’t take the title from the Fleetwood Mac song. I’ve always liked the name, and right around when I started writing the book as a young adult novel, I went to a family reunion and met a cousin’s daughter for the first time, and she was absolutely adorable. She actually looked like she would grow up to look like my mysterious title character–and her name was Sara. (I had originally named the character Tara; it was an easy switch.)
Being a senior sure doesn’t feel any different, I thought as I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror, and I sure don’t look any different–besides that damned pimple on my chin.
I don’t know what I’d been expecting. I;’d been looking forward to my senior year almost from the very day I started high school. This was it–when the year ended, I’d be an adult. No more being treated like a kid, no more getting up Monday through Friday at six thirty, no more being at the mercy of teachers and coaches and guidance counselors–it would all end when I cross the stage, took the diploma, and put the tassel on the other side of the cap.
It couldn’t happen soon enough, thank you very much.
And then I could get the hell out of this podunk town in the middle of nowhere, and never look back.
I finished toweling my hair and hung the wet towel on the rack. I looked in the mirror again. I touched the angry-looking red blotch in the direct center of my chin. It might as well have been blinking and neon–no one could miss the stupid thing. I sighed and wondered what kind of omen that would turn out to be as I put on my underwear and a pair of jean shorts. Probably not a good one, I thought, sighing again as I brushed my damp hair into place. I was out of hair gel, so I just parted it on the side and combed it flat.
I was already starting to sweat. It wasn’t even eight in the morning yet, and our crappy house was already turning into a sauna. The house didn’t have central air conditioning–all we had was some window units in the bedrooms. Mom kept saying when she got a little bit ahead she’d buy one for the bathroom, but until then we’d have to make do with fans.
I walked down the hall back to my bedroom, wiping sweat off my forehead. I stood in front of the window unit and raised my arms so my armpits would dry. When I didn’t feel damp anymore, I reached over to the bed for my purple Trojan Football T-shirt. I pulled it over my head, but had to yank it down hard to get it past my chest. The weightlifting I;d been doing all summer had worked–the shirt stretched so tight across my pecs it looked like it might rip. I looked into the full-length mirror hung on the back of the bedroom door and smiled. It made my muscles look huge–so maybe no one would notice the stupid pimple. I tucked the shirt into my shorts and rubbed some antiperspirant into my armpits, hoping it would work this time. I picked up my backpack and made sure one more time I had everything: notebook, pens, my cheap cell phone–yeah, I hadn’t forgotten anything. I put my wallet into my back pocket and sat down on the edge of my bed to put on my socks and shoes.
I’ve often joked that Sara is my “get even with everyone I went to high school” book, but that isn’t true. Yes, I did not have a great time in high school–either of them–but it wasn’t all bad; I did have some friends, even though it often felt like I didn’t have any, and after graduation, I decided to shut that door behind me firmly and move on with the rest of my life. I harbored a lot of anger and bitterness about my high school experience, but time does provide some healing, even if there’s a scar left behind. I was weird and different from my classmates from kindergarten on: I was gay but I was also an artistic child with a wild and vivid imagination in an environment where no one knew what to make of either. I was different, and that was all that mattered, even if they couldn’t quite process that I wasn’t from another planet or an aberration that needed to be shunned and excluded and mocked.
As I have mentioned before, I started writing in high school about a group of high school kids in a rural high school similar to the one I was attending. That eventually morphed into a lengthy, hand-written (and incredibly amateurish and terrible) first novel from which I have pilfered plots, stories and characters ever since. Sometime in the mid-1980’s, as a fan of Stephen King and Peter Straub, I decided to try my hand at writing horror short stories, with an eye to maybe writing a horror novel. I even started writing a horror novel(The Enchantress, which I occasionally think about getting back out of the drawer and working on again; it did, however, lead me to write a different book decades later, but I still think about The Enchantress from time to time). By this time I’d taken a junior college writing class and was starting to get my confidence in my dream back after the horror of my first creative writing course in college; I took another course in it when I started going to Fresno State (CSU-Fresno at the time, to be correct) and that teacher, in a conference about one of my stories (which he really liked), told me, when asked about writing a novel, “The best way to study how to structure a novel is to take one that you really like, and then break down how it’s structured; how the story and the characters are built and the pattern and rhythm of how action is interlaced into the plot.” I’ve always remembered that, and sometimes when I am stuck on a book I think about his advice and think about how a book with a similar story to the one I am trying to tell is structured.
I put The Enchantress aside and decided to try, once again, to do something with fragments of that horrible first novel I’d written, and introduce an element of horror to it. I decided to structure the book the way Stephen King structured Christine–something awful happened when we were in high school, and now, many years later, the main character is looking back and remembering, and at the end of the story we find out that the reason he is telling us this story is because he’s afraid the awful thing is coming back again (reoccurance/revival of something evil is a strong theme in horror, and King has gone to that well numerous times, most famously with It and the dueling timelines). So, I started writing Sara with a prologue written in the present day; ten years later, the main character has gotten an invitation to the high school reunion and starts remembering back, and then in the first chapter we’re back in the late 1970’s and don’t return to the present again to the epilogue. I also decided to do the different POV thing King did in Christine (which I still think is one of his most underrated novels of all time); he tells the first part and the third part of the book in the first person point of view of Dennis, but the second section is the third person and bounces around from character to character before the return in the final section of the book (it really is a three-act structure). I thought this was very clever and decided to use it in this book, too. But instead of an evil car, we had a mysterious new girl at the rural high school who dazzles and enchants all the boys–but there’s something not right about her.
I decided that the book–primarily focusing on teenagers–would work best as a young adult novel (ater discovering there even was such a thing as y/a horror) and so I dropped the looking back prologue/epilogue framing and moved the action into the present day. I finished a first draft in about six months, and then put it in a drawer for about fifteen years before returning to it, overhauling it and dragging it into the new present day and publishing it.
Revisiting Sara now, thirty years after I first conceived it and ten years after publishing it, the first thing I noticed was “hmmm, you should have reread this before turning in the final draft of #shedeservedit, since technically the two books were supposed to be connected; with the newer book set in the county seat and Sara taking part in the rural southern part of the county” but I am also recognizing that my books don’t, in fact, all need to be connected together; there’s no reason why this particular county and its county seat can’t be a county or two away from this one, even if they are remarkably similar geographically; it’s the plains, after all. There may even be characters in this one with the same name as a character in #shedeservedit, but again, it doesn’t really matter–and I’ve written other stories set in Kansas in the same area where the geography is the same and maybe even some of the character names. I used the ten-year-reunion (or possibly twenty) in rural Kansas thing in my story “Promises in Every Star,” for example, and revisited the Kansas well for “This Thing of Darkness” too.
And will probably return to that well at least once more for a book, if not more than one.
We’ve been having a more than abnormal heat wave lately; Thursday when I went to run my errands it was over eighty degrees, according to the car’s temperature gauge, and yes, since you asked so nicely, I was in fact running the air conditioner. The air conditioner in the house has also kicked on and off several times over the past few days. I prefer it to be warm than cold, without question, it just seems a bit weird.
I did give in to my curiosity a bit and watched some of the College Football Play-off games yesterday; in which Alabama spanked Cincinnati and Georgia dominated Michigan to set up yet another championship game between the two. This will be the first time they’ve played twice in the same season though; the question is whether or not Georgia will at long last get the Alabama monkey off their back and finally get a title win. I won’t get involved in the “Did Cincinnati/Michigan belong in the play-offs” conversation because they earned their way in and I don’t think there was anyone else (sorry, Ohio State/Notre Dame/Baylor fans) who might have done any better than they did against this year’s two juggernauts; this is like how in 2011 LSU and Alabama were so much better than anyone else they were the only teams capable of beating each other. Paul said earlier in the season, “It’s really just Georgia and Alabama, and then everyone else” and he was right. People are already bored with the notion of two SEC teams playing for the national championship again for the third time in just over a decade; I am curious to see if this development will result in another reshuffling/change to the system.
We also finished watching Gossip Girl the OG last night, and while it’s nice to finally be finished with the show, I feel like the last season was a bit hurried, and the final outcomes of the cast mates’ lives–who they wound up with for their HEA’s–wasn’t necessarily the best outcome or the one I wanted to see, but life sometimes just works out that way. The identity of the actual “gossip girl” was never really, to me, a big mystery of the show–whenever I did think about it, the big reveal at the end was the only outcome that could possibly make sense over all, even if they did cheat a bit from time to time to throw the viewers off the scent, but at the same time–I was more interested in the melodrama playing out on screen between the characters than actually caring about the mystery at the heart of the show, or finding out who it actually was. I still think–without watching the rest–that the OG is vastly superior to the new edition, but I may go back and finish watching the sequel series simply because I am, if nothing else, a completist.
I need to work this weekend; I need to write and revise and edit and work on my email inbox, among other things, and at some point I need to make a grocery run (something I am really not looking forward to, but there are definitely worse things at this point that going to the store), and of course, there’s always housework that needs to be done. I was very tired these last two days–not sure what that was about, some combination of physical, mental, and intellectual exhaustion, no doubt–so waking up feeling good and rested and not sluggish was a lovely feeling; an excellent portent for the new year. I’ve also decided to set my goals for 2022 in a different entry for clarity’s sake.
Reflecting back on 2021, as I’ve been doing these past few days, hasn’t been easy–in no small part because the last two years have sort of blended together in my head as “the pandemic year” even though we are about ready to go into Year Fucking Three of it, which was completely and utterly unnecessary–but one great reading pleasure I forgot to mention in my round-up of what I enjoyed this last year was Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series, which has brought me no small amount of pleasure in this pandemic time. I still have a long way to go in the series before I can even consider myself close to the point of running out of books to read within it; but I would also like to revisit King’s Kate Martinelli series and some of her other work as well. She really is particularly gifted as a writer, and she’s made me fall in love a bit with Sherlock Holmes, and Conan Doyle didn’t even manage that particular feat. (I also kind of want to revisit the Nicholas Meyer iterations of Holmes; there’s a brand new one out now that involves Egypt, so naturally I want to dig into that one.)
I also need to figure out what I need to revise and write that I’ve agreed to do thus far…yikes! I will be the first to admit I’ve been sluggish these last couple of weeks–the holidays always do that for me–but I feel rested and alert and capable this morning, which is more than I can say for any other morning lately. So I am going to finish this off, do my 2022 goals entry, and then get my day going. I don’t know if I am going to watch any of the bowl games today–I don’t find myself caring very much about any of the games being played today, and I might put them on for background noise while I do other things. (I spent a lot of time yesterday while doing things listening to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and then some of the earlier session versions of the songs that come along with the “deluxe bonus” version of the album on Spotify; one of the earlier session recordings of “Gold Dust Woman” is spectacular–That Bitch Ford made sure I listened to it–and I might spend some time listening to other Fleetwood Mac albums today as well.)
So, today I need to spend some time with the book; spend some time with a promotional article I need to write for #shedeservedit, and need to do one last final edit/revision on “The Sound of Snow Falling.” I feel like that’s an ambitious enough program for the first day of the new year, and should I finish these things as planned, I can reward myself with some reading time.
I seriously cannot wait to be finished with writing this book, frankly.
And on that note, I am going to move on to writing up my goals email. Have a lovely New Year, Constant Reader–and I will check in with you again later with the goals and then again tomorrow morning.
One of the many Youtube wormholes I have fallen down since the pandemic descended upon on our world has been the magical journey of the music reaction video. I didn’t know this was even a thing–I think it was Twins the New Trend’s reaction video to the Carpenters that went viral was when I actually learned this is something people not only do, but can make money from (O magical world of the Internet! Is there anything that can’t be monetized?) but this led me to, thanks to Youtube suggestions, other young people or music specialists (vocal coaches, etc.) reacting to older music they’ve not heard before, or from artists they may recognize the name of but not their music.
Needless to say, seeing these young people discover, appreciate, and love Fleetwood Mac (and Stevie Nicks) is not only a lot of fun but also is an unneeded justification of my nearly life-long love of the band. The Rumours album is probably my favorite album of all time; and since it was released (and I discovered it) when I was in high school in Kansas, Rumours is always linked in my mind to not only high school but to Kansas in particular. I didn’t have an 8-track player in my car when I was in high school–I never even had a car of any kind with the capacity to do anything other than play the radio until 1991–but radio was a major player back in those days, and I of course had other friends who did have 8 track or cassette players in their cars… Rumours was pretty much owned by everyone (as was Hotel California by the Eagles and Boston’s debut album) and so it was often heard in cars, played loudly, as it drove way over the speed limit down country roads.
But watching these people discover the Mac, and listening to and enjoying their music for the first time (despite my devotion to Stevie and all things Stevie, my favorite Mac song will always be “Go Your Own Way”) has taken me down that pleasant road of nostalgia and memory…which came somewhat in handy as I wrote #shedeservedit aka the Kansas Book. I based Liberty Center geographically on Emporia, Kansas; but I have not set foot in Emporia since I left one snowy February night in 1981 so I had to rely a lot on memories. I did use Google Earth to revisit, in case my faulty memory was wrong about where a street was or how the grid the city was laid out on precisely was laid out–where was the Catholic cemetery, where was the college campus, where was the park down by the waterfall–but since I was also fictionalizing everything, it was more of a guideline than anything else; it was easier for me to picture it all in my head that way rather than making it all up from scratch. (I also got the name Liberty Center, and used it, as a tribute to Philip Roth and his novel When She Was Good; I’d gone through many many iterations of names for that town throughout the years, but Liberty Center was just too perfect not to use)
And yes, I listened to a lot of Fleetwood Mac while I was writing the book. While Hotel California and Boston can both take me back to Kansas if I listen to them, Fleetwood Mac’s first three albums with Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks (Fleetwood Mac, Rumours, Tusk) definitely do it almost from the first chord (if I am writing, of course–I am also realizing as I write this and think it through that I need to write an essay about my lifelong fandom of Fleetwood Mac, and how their music has always inspired me with my writing and creativity as well as connected with me emotionally).
Although, interestingly enough, the first time I ever published fiction about Kansas–my short story “Promises in Every Star”–it was actually inspired by another band, ’til Tuesday. But that’s a story for another time.
Music has always been important to my writing process–back in the days of CD’s, I used to put five in the stereo and hit shuffle whenever I started writing, trying to make them all from the same artist or at least similar artists–and I’ve noticed that recently I don’t listen to music quite as much as I used to when I write, and have been thinking that maybe I need to go back to that process. I rediscovered my love of writing after a long burnt out period by using journals to record ideas and random thoughts and things again–going back to my roots, as it were–and so maybe music is something I need to add back into my writing experience, especially since I am coming down to crunch time with the new book.
I’m working at home today–there’s data entry to do and condoms packs to make, as always–and then of course tomorrow is our paid holiday for New Year’s, so I can spend that day writing and cleaning and running errands and so forth. I need to pick up a prescription today, so will probably do that at some point (I think the pharmacy will be closed tomorrow, since its in one of our buildings and they do get holidays as well) and also will need to do a deep dive into my email inbox and get some things done around here.
And that’s my cue to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely New Year’s Eve Eve!
Sunday morning and the end of the weekend looms, which means I need to get up at six for the next three mornings. Groan. These last two mornings I’ve been a lag-a-bed; which of course delays Scooter’s morning insulin shot–which means I need to be certain I give it to him at the correct time tonight because I can’t given it to him later tomorrow. It looks lovely outside this morning–which is nice, since I am going to go to the gym in a moment, after finishing this and cleaning the kitchen, so I can come home and work on the book all day. I didn’t get as much done yesterday as perhaps I would have liked–I did manage to get a working timeline for the events of the book in place, something I didn’t do for Bury Me in Shadows (and my editor requested it in the notes she gave me) and as I began doing it, I realized how fucked up the timeline for the book actually was. Over the course of numerous drafts, the time of the book changed–originally, I had the book set over Homecoming weekend (why not give into every cliché of writing about high school, right?) and then, at some point, I casually did some research about the Kansas high school football season and, much to my own horror, discovered that the regular season generally ends around Halloween–I’d forgotten that it has to end earlier so it doesn’t overlap with basketball season (which is the most important sport in Kansas–always has been, always will be) unless your team goes to the actual play-offs. Yesterday I had to verify when the school semester starts, and double-checked the football season again, which was important. I had left it as Homecoming weekend but had to move it earlier into the season…and then realized in a much later draft that the story doesn’t work with that much time passing between the pivotal points of the story and Homecoming….so I realized I had to move it to the first game of the season (which makes the most sense) but I was also still going by my vague memory that my birthday in late August was always right before school starts….assuming the start of the school year hadn’t changed over the last forty years, which it obviously has; school starts in early to mid-August now; the first game of the season is inevitably either the Frida before or after Labor Day, depending on when the holiday falls, and that of course changed everything about the current timeline in the book–which will now have to be changed. There’s another pivotal event of the story that happens over the summer, and I’d planned to use the county fair as the backdrop for it, so I looked up when the Lyon County Fair is…and it’s right before the start of school–late July/early August–which again fucked with my timeline of the story until I realized I don’t have to have the fair take place when the real one I am fictionalizing does; and it’s a perfect timeline now, really; it makes so much sense for the county fair to happen, my main character’s family vacation to follow that, and for him to come back in time for the start of football season but missing the big kick-off event for the community: the bonfire, which is the night the event that serves as a catalyst for the story occurs. It means tweaking the story even more–and I still have things to add to it–and I am probably going to have to rewrite almost everything from Chapter Seventeen on, but that’s okay. I now know how to end the story, which means I have a shit ton of writing and revising to get done in the next ten days or so (since the deadline falls on the Thursday before Easter weekend, with Friday as a paid holiday, I may go ahead and take that final weekend to make sure everything is okay with it before turning it in). I have to get Bury Me in Shadows fixed in April, and I have some short stories I want to work on that month as well for upcoming deadlines. So May will be most likely when I start working on Chlorine–which means June will be when I start writing the first draft of the next Scotty; if I am able to stay on this schedule. Please God, let me stay on schedule.
So anyway, I am very pleased with what I was able to get done yesterday. When I get home from the gym today and get cleaned up, I am going to settle into my easy chair with the laptop and with Fleetwood Mac blaring on the home stereo–I made a wonderful playlist on Spotify Friday, which I will likely expand upon this morning–primarily adding every Fleetwood Mac album in order, from Fleetwood Mac thru Say You Will, with probably some solo work from the band members mixed in as well. Fleetwood Mac has really been helping me get inspired to write this past week or so; I’m glad I’ve rediscovered how much I love their music again (I never forget, I just don’t think about listening to them as much as I used to–an enormous mistake I will never make again); likewise I find listening to Taylor Swift while I am writing enormously inspirational as well; not sure what that’s all about, but whatever it is, I’ll take it. Music has always been an important part of my writing process–I’ve always loved music, and wished I had some musical talent of any kind–but alas, that was not to be. I generally do listen to music–I can remember back when I was writing Murder in the Rue Dauphine I used to put three Madonna CD’s in the stereo and hit shuffle (The Immaculate Collection, Like a Prayer, and Ray of Light) while I was writing and then I would suddenly realize the music had stopped playing and I’d written a shit ton of words.
I never got around to reading The Russia House yesterday; maybe today I’ll be able to get some work done and spend some time with LeCarré. I did take eight boxes of books to the Latter Library to donate to their book sale, picked up my own mail, and then made groceries before coming home to put everything away and work on the book. I was tempted to watch the Snyder version of Justice League, but it’s four hour length is rather daunting; it’s definitely on queue for condom packing this week. We watched the SEC Gymnastics meet last night (LSU finished second, and just .125 out of first) and then the season finale of Servant, which remains as much a mystery as it was when we first started watching, but it’s done so well and it so fucking creepy and bizarre–the acting is also pinpoint sharp, and Lauren Ambrose certainly deserves at least an Emmy nomination for her complicated and crazy Dorothy Turner, for whom motherhood has proven both a tragedy on a Shakespearean level and an all consuming passion that drives her–and those who love her–down an insane path they never should have taken, and of course everything keeps spinning insanely out of control for everyone.
And of course there’s only one more weekend of me being a Festival widow, which I am really looking forward to. I miss Paul, and spending the evenings together watching our television programs and having dinner. Scooter misses having him around, too.
I did read a short story yesterday; from Nikki Dolson’s Love and Other Criminal Behavior, called “Georgie Ann.” It was marvelously delightful, dark and twisted and chilling; just what the doctor ordered:
Georgie Ann is dead. Her husband and all of our crowd around her coffin. They stand with their backs to use and their arms thrown over each other’s shoulders. We, the dutiful spouses, black suited and Prada heeled, sit waiting for our cue to cry.
The casket is open. We’ve all done our viewing and we agree she looks great for a dead woman her age. She is ten years our senior. Was.
One of us says what we’re all thinking, “How much hairspray do you think they used? Her hair never held curls like that.”
A very stark, nasty opening the sets the mood, tone and attitude of the story very much into place: Georgie Ann wasn’t a very nice person, and her “crowd” didn’t like her very much. Our narrator certainly didn’t, and as she remembers Georgie Ann’s sins and conduct to her and all of their friends, the reader also begins to dislike Georgie Ann…and wonder how she wound up dead. This story actually reminds me very strongly of Liane Moriarty’s works, or Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, the little hurts and slights and tiny issues that grow into darker, bad things. “Georgie Ann” could very easily be one of those novels, exploring the complexities and competitions between a group of friends that turns into something darker, possibly criminal. Definitely looking forward to delving into this collection even further.
And on that note, tis time for me to start tidying up so I can head to the gym with a clear (relatively) conscious. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and I will catch you the next time.
Hey there, Saturday! Hope all is well with you, Constant Reader. Yesterday was a lovely day, really–I managed to get a lot done, made a Costco run, loaded all the boxes of books into the car to drop off at the library today, cleaned and organized, and even went through the books again to fill up two more boxes, which need to be loaded into the car this morning. The Latter Library no longer requires appointments to drop off books to donate for the library sale–provided you drop them off during the sale, which runs from 10-2 on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. The decluttering of the Lost Apartment is off to a great start; with a goal of cleaning out the storage attic and the storage space as well, preparatory to closing the storage space rental once and for all. I put on the new Fleetwood Mac playlist I made on Spotify and just went to town, and of course as I washed dishes, reorganized kitchen cabinets to make room for the new stuff I’d bought at Costco (and seriously, I am not going to have to buy jalapeños or Reynolds wrap for several years now; I also bought an insanely box of garbage bags; again, won’t have to buy them for months again), my mind was off being creative, which is one of the reasons I love cleaning and organizing while I am working on a book. I did think a lot of stuff through with the book–always important, as I am in the final stretch–and then moved on to other book ideas and short stories and so forth, the way I always do–unharnessing my creativity is always a lot of fun, to see where it goes–and this morning’s job, before going to get the mail, stop at the library, and possibly–just possibly–make groceries (I cannot decide whether I should get it out of the way today and just go to the gym tomorrow; or if I want to do the groceries and the gym on the same day). Once I am safely home from the errands I am going to work on the book some more, and possibly read some more of the John LeCarré book I started this past week, The Russia House, which I am really enjoying.
One of the more interesting things about doing a sweep of the books was, of course, the memories–I often will buys books at a conference written by other attending authors whom I’ve just met and listened to on panels, as well as those of my friends who are writers–but once I’ve read the book, there’s really no need to keep it. I love being surrounded by books; I love books and always have, and prefer to always be surrounded by them. There will always be more books, and I will always continue to buy more books than I will ever have the time to read–although I am remembering with much fondness the week we spent in Acapulco back in 2006, and all the reading I got done on the balcony listening to the waves crashing ashore, or the time we went to the tennis spa north of Tampa for a long weekend, so Paul could play tennis and take lessons while I stayed in the adorable rental apartment on the property, writing and reading. My dream is to eventually live somewhere that has a spare bedroom so I can have an office, and then of course put out the books; I would have bookcases in both my office and the living room so there would be books everywhere. I think the next thing I need for the apartment is a taller file cabinet; the small two drawer one I currently use isn’t enough, and while obviously I would eventually fill up a taller filing cabinet (there’s always so much paper around here) I will cross that bridge when I come to it.
It looks gray again outside, and it must be in the sixties because the air isn’t on. I don’t think it’s going to rain, there’s just a massive cloud cover blocking out the sun–not a bad thing, now that the trees are gone (I’m still bitter about the loss of the crepe myrtles)–and I am very curious to see how our new system handles the summer. I suspect it will be much more bearable downstairs now, and those little portable air conditioners I bought last year will no longer be of use (although I may use one next to the bed to help me sleep better), which isn’t a bad thing, really. My sleep last night wasn’t as deep as I would have liked; I woke up several times but was always able to go back to sleep. I’d love to have one night of deep, long-lasting unbroken sleep, but I do feel rested this morning and not at all sore from yesterday’s workout (which, again, I had to make myself do); if anything, I feel like I stretched perfectly and the weight lifting actually has made everything feel better, which is quite lovely, if I do say so myself. Paul will be at the office again today and tomorrow–this weekend is the Writer’s Retreat for the Tennessee Williams Festival–and then he only has next weekend’s Festival itself to get through, and then it’s over for the year and hopefully, next year will be in person–still stressful and a lot of work, but at least everything will be over the same weekend rather than spread out over three. I also realized part of the reason I’ve felt so disconnected from New Orleans lately has been a combination of two things: I no longer work at the office on Frenchmen Street in the Marigny, so I don’t drive thru the Quarter anymore on my way to and from work, and I’ve not really had much of an opportunity to enjoy the Festivals in the past three years. I was on a tight deadline the last time the Festival was an in-person event, so I didn’t get to stay down there for the entire weekend, plus I had to come home to tend to Scooter. I am still holding out hope that Bouchercon will happen this year…depends on how infections go this summer, I imagine.
I am also thinking I need to do some exploring. Maybe once this book is finished…
And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and I’ll talk to you tomorrow.
Wednesday and it’s Pay Day, and it’s also the day the IRS app claims my stimulus check will arrive in my checking account. I haven’t checked yet–probably won’t until after I finish this post–but it will be a lovely and welcome addition to my bank account. My big splurge will inevitably be a trip to Costco and paying some bills, most likely, trying to get ahead of things. I have been sleeping extremely well this week–although always feel like I am “untimely ripped” from my bed every morning. Tonight I am going to the gym after work and coming home to complete putting the corrections/edits into the manuscript, preparatory to the big final push to get everything finished. I have some more writing–and probably editing–to get done, and I am seriously hoping I can get it all done relatively soon; hopefully over the course of the weekend, so I can spend the rest of the month line editing and tightening everything.
It’s supposed to thunderstorm all day, starting around the time I generally leave for the office (yay!) which will also make walking to the gym tonight a lot of fun; but I lost another pound-ish since the last time I weighed myself, and I am thinking I may actually be at a good point with my exercise and dieting (I’m not really dieting, I am just not eating late at night before I go to bed anymore, and it’s remarkable what a difference that has made. I’m also really glad I have incorporating a good stretching warm-up to my workouts; sometimes I work on improving my flexibility, others I just try to maintain a good stretch rather than trying to improve it–or get to the level I once had (the ship, alas, may have sailed on that one now that I am so old). I just know my body and my muscles feel better than they have in years, and feeling better and getting good sleep was my main motivation with the gym return in the first place. Yes, it would be great if it helped with my cholesterol and blood sugar; but if it doesn’t, so be it. The feeling better is more than enough for me.
It might seem rather obvious, but lately I’ve been listening a lot to Fleetwood Mac again–seriously my favorite band of all time, bar none; there’s really no comparison–and last night, as I deep dove into a Youtube wormhole of young people doing reaction videos to listening to Fleetwood Mac music for the first time, it occurred to me that Fleetwood Mac should have always been my playlist for the writing of this book. Yes, Fleetwood Mac has had a long and storied career–recording some incredibly great and original music (one person who was listening to them for the first time kept going back to “every song from them is a completely different sound, like every song is by a different and new band that is great”)–but if there’s any music forever linked to the five years I lived in Kansas, it’s definitely Fleetwood Mac. “Rhiannon” was released the summer we moved (I think), and I began developing my strong relationship with them the following year, with the release of Rumours, which to this day remains my favorite album of theirs. There’s just something about those two albums that just takes me back there, every time I listen to any of the music from either album….I can smell the corn fields after the rain, and driving on the county roads to get around, and being a car load of kids all singing thunder only happens when it’s raining….players only love you when they’re playing and its almost like going back in time….and the music still holds up. SO, yes, this weekend as I am a Festival widow yet again, I am going to listen to some Fleetwood Mac while I clean and organize and write my book.
My love for Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks should come as no surprise to you, Constant Reader–or to anyone who’s ever known me. And now I want to listen to Tusk again.
And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a fabulous day, Constant Reader!
I really need to focus and stop being distracted by shiny objects.
Stupid fucking shiny objects, anyway.
But there are so many, and they’re all so glittery and pretty and interesting.
It’s a wonder I get anything done.
Every once in a while, like now, I allow myself to get completely scattered and my inability to say no to people gets me into trouble; I then get overwhelmed and paralyzed with fear that I’ll never get everything done…thereby ensuring I won’t get everything done–or if I do, I’ll basically have to kill myself to get it all done on time. Heavy heaving sigh.
But at least now I’m aware I’m doing it again, which should count for something.
I took stock yesterday of everything I am doing, everything I’ve promised, and everything I’m in the middle of–and it was quite staggering. I have, as I said before, promised three short stories, only one of which has a completed draft (the others are still just ideas, waiting to be born on the page); I am working on a massive short-term project; a massive long term all year one; I am five chapters shy of finishing a first draft of a novel; have another novel manuscript that will need at least another two drafts; have written the first drafts of two first chapters of new novels; have a lengthy novella whose publication fell through that can be revised and rewritten and turned into a novel; and have about thirty or forty short stories and essays in some form of being written….and I keep having ideas, new ones for stories or novels, every day. Just this week I came up with another book idea called Another Random Shooting, which I quite like, and three short stories–“Festival of the Redeemer,” “Hot, Humid, Chance of Rain,” and “Flood Stage.” Yikes. I also have to run errands today–mail, bank, groceries–and am hopeful I will get some things done today and tomorrow. I slept really well last night–am still a bit groggy this morning, while i wait for the coffee to kick in. I think, probably, when I finish this I am going to go sit in my easy chair and read the Steph Cha novel. It’s really quite good, and I like the idea of spending my Saturday mornings reading a good book.
Yesterday when I got home from the office, I finished doing the laundry (bed linens every Friday), cleaned the kitchen and did the dishes, cleaned the Lost Apartment (still need to do the floors), and did some filing. My office space is always, it seems, a mess; something I’m never sure how to resolve. The truth is my office space is too small, always has been; but the primary problem that goes along with that is there isn’t any other place for my office to be located here in the Lost Apartment. Our apartment is, especially by New York/DC standards enormous, especially given what we pay for it–we’ll never be able to move because we will never find anything comparable at the same price; I’m not even certain one can get a studio for what we pay in rent. And, if I’m being completely honest, having a room dedicated to being my office would eventually not be big enough, either, as I tend to expand to fill space. But I still dream of the day when I’ll have an entire room for my office space. Anyway, when Paul got home I made Swedish meatballs (I do love cooking, I just rarely get the chance to do it anymore), and we got caught up on Animal Kingdom, and then finished The Boys, which is fucking fantastic. It occurred to me last night as I watched those final two episodes, that a world with super-heroes would probably be more akin to Greek mythology than the comic book worlds we see in most super-hero stories; capricious, mercurial beings with amazing, seemingly limitless powers, and all humankind would be at their mercy. I also liked that the human male lead, Hughie, is played by Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan’s son Jack–and he’s quite good, and looks nothing like either of his parents–although sometimes you get a glimpse of one or the other. I have to say I liked this show a lot more than I thought I would, and we’re both looking forward to Season 2.
I think tonight we might dip into Years and Years on HBO. One can never go wrong with Emma Thompson.
Yesterday I reread my short story “Fireflies” in order to make some notes on it. I originally wrote “Fireflies” in long hand in a notebook back in the 1980’s–it’s another one of those “from the vault” stories–and I’ve worked on it, off and on, since the original draft was written. It was always slightly off, and the original ending was terrible. Fast forward, and last year I was looking at it again, and thinking about revising it, when I was invited to submit a short story to a horror anthology. I decided to use “Fireflies,” and I revised it and rewrote it a bit, smoothed over the rough transitions, made it flow better, and changed the ending along with some additions to the narrative to make it not only tighter but stronger. After submitting the story, I was contacted by the publisher and officially commissioned to write a story for the book. The anthology had a broad submissions call, anything from noir to pulp to outright horror, but every story had to have a paranormal element to it. They commissioned a pulpy noir story, and when I mentioned I’d submitted something already, they were very nice about specifically wanting the new story and would still consider the other; I wound up writing “A Whisper from the Graveyard” for it, and a few months ago they finally decided not to use “Fireflies”–but were interested in it as a novella; the true problem with “Fireflies” was its length. I immediately saw the value of the critique; I never think of writing in terms of novellas or novelettes (primarily because there really isn’t a market for these longer stories that are too short to be novels), and so made a note to reread the story and see what possibilities there were for it. So, I did that yesterday, and I was correct–the story would work better as a longer novella. I’ve written novellas before–“The Nightwatchers” and “Blood on the Moon” for those Kensington omnibus books, and I self-published “Quiet Desperation”” myself on Amazon. One of the projects I am in the midst of, “Never Kiss a Stranger,” is also going to be a longer, possibly novella length, story; I’d always thought of it from the beginning that way, and will probably self-publish it at some point on Amazon once I finish it.
“Fireflies” is another Alabama story, which means another “Corinth County” story. It was inspired by the Fleetwood Mac song, “Fireflies”, even though they have nothing to do with each other as far as content. The only connection other than the title is mood; I wanted to get the mood of the song into the story, and I think I succeeded. The song is one of my favorite Fleetwood Mac recordings, and only appears on the Fleetwood Mac Live double album. Ironically, it’s a studio recording they mixed crowd noises into, so it wouldn’t seem out of place on the live album; the original version is on Youtube without the crowd noises. I’d say the story is also strongly influenced by Thomas Tryon’s The Other, which is one of my favorite novels of all time (and overdue for a reread, as are The Haunting of Hill House and Rebecca), and I still think someone should do a biography of Tryon. I’d do it, but my research skills are subpar and non-fiction is also not my strength. But Tryon is fascinating to me–a relatively successful actor who was closeted and never quite attained stardom; then gave up on acting and turned to writing. He was also the longtime lover of the first gay porn star, Casey Donovan, of Boys in the Sand fame. Anyway, I digress (damned shiny objects, anyway). The point is there are so many Alabama stories in my files that have never been published; I think the only Alabama/Corinth County stories that have been published are “Small-town Boy” and “Son of a Preacher Man,” as well as the novel Dark Tide, which may not be actually set there but the main character is from there. Bury Me in Shadows is the first full-length thing set in Alabama for me to get this far with, and it–and “Fireflies”–are reconnecting me to everything.
I also keep thinking I need to go back there, just to drive through and take pictures, get a feel for the place again, refresh my memories.
This is how the story opens:
Jem slapped at a horsefly buzzing around his ear. He hated horseflies. They bit and left welts that hurt.
“God commands us to HONOR THY FATHER AND THY MOTHER!” Brother Killingsworth thundered from his pulpit to a chorus of scattered amens inside the little chapel. Jem could hear the sermon clearly because the screened windows were open to catch whatever cooling breeze there might be on this hot July Sunday. He could hear the fluttering of paper fans, the creak from the turning of the blades of the ceiling fans.
The Church of Christ Our Lord and Savior didn’t believe in air conditioning because the faithful suffered in the heat to listen to the Lord preach back in the Holy Land, wiping the sweat from their brows and letting the cloth stick to their wet bodies. And if that was good enough for the ones who gathered to hear the word of Jesus, it was the least the flock of the Church of Christ Our Lord and Savior could do, am I right and can I get an amen, brothers and sisters?
“Little better than snake handlers,” Jem’s mama would sniff with that mean look on her face, shaking her finger in his face, even though it wasn’t polite to point, “and you’d better stay away from there. You hear me, boy?”
Were I to ever write a memoir, I suppose the easiest thing to do would be divide my life into chapters of every ten years or so; my life has sort of been divided that way, almost corresponding with the calendar decades. I was born in 1961; ten years later one chapter of my life closed and another opened when we moved from the city to the suburbs; ten years later we left Kansas for California; 1991 marked my move to Florida, and 2001 was the return to New Orleans from a year in Washington D.C. (what I often refer to, in my head, as ‘the lost year of misery’). 2011 was the year I turned fifty, the aughts being my first full decade of living in New Orleans. Those chapters could then be divided into smaller brackets; the years in the suburbs, the years in Kansas, the bridging year in Houston, the transitional months in Minneapolis, the pre-published years in New Orleans; the pre-Katrina time as a published author, the post Katrina recovery years; I supposed I could mark 2011 as the beginning of another time, the manic productive years when I wrote so many novels and edited so many anthologies and so many short stories. 2017 was the year I took off, to catch my breath and relax and recharge and recover; it was also the year of paralyzing self-doubt and terror that I was never going to write again. Sometimes I wonder if the manic years were precisely what they were because of that fear: the fear that if I ever stopped I would never start again, that I would never start again.
One would think now, after the prodigious output of the last seventeen years or so, I would never doubt myself anymore, would never fear the fount might run dry; but I am just as worried and nervous and as full of doubts as I was in the years I dreamed of making this my reality and wrote and wrote and wrote. It never gets easier, the doubts and fears never go away. At least not for me; I cannot speak for other writers. But I do define myself as a writer. That has been my identity since I signed that first contract all those years ago; above every other identity I can be labelled, be it male or gay or American or New Orleanian or Southern; above and beyond all else I identify as author.
In an interview recently about Lindsey Buckingham’s departure from the band and Fleetwood Mac’s decision to continue, and tour, without him, Stevie Nicks said, This is terribly sad for me, but I want to be happy and enjoy the next ten years. That may not be the exact quote, but its very close to what she said, and it hit me right at the core of my being. She–and the others–have always been about writing and creating and performing their music; but now they are getting older and wondering how much more time to do they have to do this thing they love so much? I would imagine Tom Petty’s death weighed pretty heavily on her; they were very close. It also made me feel my own age, and wonder about my own future. How many more years do I have to write the books and stories that I want to? What will I do if the day ever comes when I cannot do this anymore, when people don’t want to read what I’ve written, when no publisher wants to invest in getting my work out to readers?
Heavy thoughts, indeed, my own mortality isn’t something I’ve ever cared enough about to think about. But I would imagine, that no matter what else happens in my life, as long as I can type, as long as I can sit up in my chair and see my computer screen, I will keep writing. This compulsion will probably never go away; I know the stories will most likely never stop coming to my mind. Even when I wasn’t writing last year, the ideas were still coming; characters and stories and plots and those stray thoughts that always begin wouldn’t it be interesting if or I wonder what would make a person do such a thing or I wonder what would happen if…
My conscious decision at the beginning of this year to focus on writing, on rediscovering the joy I once always felt when I was creating, the sense of satisfaction felt upon finishing my work for the day, was perhaps the smartest thing I’ve ever done. I do enjoy doing this, even when it frustrates me, when the words won’t come, when I get behind, when I procrastinate and don’t do it even when I know I must, and that the best way to fight off those horrible self-doubts and fears and insecurities is to just fucking do it.
Nothing else matters, really, when it all comes down to it.
I have errands to do today; hardware store and the post office and the grocery store. I’d like to get back to the gym for the first time in almost a month, and the house, of course, is a war zone. But I also want to work on Chapter Twelve of the Scotty novel, and do some work on some short stories that I am working on. I’d like to get the collection finished this coming week, and turned in. I am also compiling, of all things, a second collection. Eye roll. I also want to read over the first four chapters of the revision of the WIP, which I’ve not touched in months; I really need to work on that as well, since it’s a part of the Agent Search.